- List of Habits from Home Education
- Serenity and Vigilance
- Laying the Basis of Education by the Habit of Reading
- System and Method, or the Limitations of Habits
- Keeping Watch
- Exercise and Effort
To sum up so far, Charlotte Mason seemed to divide habits into three types of categories:
- Preliminary or Nursery habits, which might be said to be environmental and partly physical, partly passive and partly active.
In the category of habits for mothers -- vigilance and serenity are two things to balance. For me that is a hard balance. How to keep alert, and still serene?
Right now I've been trying to cultivate the habit of vigilance, without running to try to fix every little thing, at least not at first. I don't want to get overwhelmed and start "riding off madly in all directions". I want to be present and awake in the moment. Of course, "keeping watch at the place of the letting out of the waters" does involve a certain attitude of caution. When some new behavior crops up, or an old one escalates, just being attentive is helpful in dealing with the issue. This means that I need to mostly stay away from things that distract me from paying attention.
Habit is of real but limited value, Charlotte Mason says. "System" is codified habit. It is great for certain things that only require training, like secretarial skills. But it is insufficient for education, which involves more than routine. Education involves the will, and the intelligence, which need to be free to exercise; habits are supposed to support the freedom of a human, not detract from it.
Therefore, Charlotte Mason advised that children should always be allowed to exert themselves, to exercise mentally and morally. This, among other things, ensures that habit does not become like an exoskeleton, closing you in like a hard shell.
I want to focus there on the "allow" part -- she used the phrase "LET the children brace themselves to understand; let them compel themselves to do and to bear; and let them do right at the sacrifice of ease and pleasure:". Is this semantics? a euphemism for "MAKE them do these things?" I don't think so. The etymological meaning of "let" is "to allow, let go, bequeath, leave."
The fact is that children like to work, they crave some effort as outlet for their energetical developmental process. Very often, I am aware, I can hinder my children from meaningful intellectual and moral efforts. It's not always said, but it can be an implicit message. "Don't work so hard -- be a less energetic worker so you can be easier to manage."
I think also that when CM says "let" she could be meaning "make the conditions right for...." Sometimes my children hesitate to do something difficult because they are afraid they will initially fail, or find it unpleasant. I am the same way. So sometimes, positively encouraging an effort can have good results.
Bequeathing, as part of the etymology of the word "let", seems to evoke a heritage or gift which we pass on to our children by letting them partake of responsibility and effort. Doing good things intellectually and morally involves effort, but it's a wholesome kind of effort.
The next section, still in Preliminary Considerations, is about Conditions of Healthy Brain Activity, is about the ties between physical and mental health, and about some of the preconditions for habits proper.